I was minutes away from walking out the door, having planned my departure down to the last second.  Racing up the stairs one final time, my mind was trying to assimilate what my peripheral vision had captured.  Was I imagining things or was our fully decorated Christmas tree leaning forward, slowly inching toward the floor?   Really?  This was going to happen?  Now??

Quickly, I grabbed a ladder, propping it against the tree.  Next, I shoved a chair against the ladder, followed by the couch – bracing the chair -bracing the ladder… hoping the reinforcements would hold the tree in place until I (or more likely, Ed) could deal with it.

The scene was like a snapshot of ME, and what I feel God has been working out in my heart.   My whole life feels like propped-up chaos!!

         I could definitely talk about my continual racing all day, everyday, from activity to activity to appointments with homeschooling thrown in to the mix- all of which has left me in complete disorganization.  I’m almost to the point of believing that the only way I will ever be able to claw my way out is to move!  Recently I came across a fitting acronym for CHAOS:  Can’t  Have Anyone Over Syndrome

Hah!  So true.

However, while all the above is more than apparent in my life, God is nudging me to apply a different concept to my leaning Christmas tree object lesson.  So… here goes.  And, my one request (as my kids would say) …don’t judge me.

Some background:  My strategy for beginning a new year is not to write specific resolutions, but rather to name my year.  One incredible example of this is from January of 1996; I was childless and lacking in faith.  I purposefully christened that year as the “Year of Faith.”  I wrote verses on faith, read many books and DAILY surrendered my dreams to God.  Before that year was over, God miraculously blessed us with our first child, Jessica.  My faith was ENCOURAGED!!  It was not a magic formula to force God to come through.  The magic was in the surrendering and the focus of my heart.

Fast forward to 2013.  This is my “Year of Freedom.”  To be free is to be secure in Christ.  What would I be capable of if I were truly secure (Beth Moore)?  If I really grasped who I am in Christ?

Synonyms of insecurity (or insecure) include instability, hanging by a thread, shaky, un-poised (sounds like my Christmas tree) as well as self-doubt and anxiety.  I really thought I was through fighting this formidable foe, yet lately the struggle seems to have picked up some new momentum.

My emotions have literally run amuck with some ridiculous overanalyzing of EVERY interaction I have with people.  I am just positive that everyone (Ed and close friends included) finds me annoying and not worth their time.  How defeating!  Debilitating!  And… AM I THAT SELF-CENTERED IN THAT I MAKE EVERYTHING ABOUT ME??

I find it fascinating that since naming 2013 my year of freedom, I’ve been feeling more insecure than ever!  And, even more eye opening to me, is that a key synonym of the word security is…FREEDOM.  As strange as it may sound, I am very encouraged that I’m on the right track.  The intensity of my emotions is reflecting the “heat of my personal spiritual battle.”

God is dealing with me down to the very roots of my issues.  He is in the process of removing my emotional props.   The craziest part of all of it is this: to be free is to surrender everything.  Give up all control.  Die to self.  Submit to Christ’s authority.  THAT goes against every natural inclination.  I can’t earn freedom on my own.  I can do nothing BUT ….give up!  Give it over.

2013 is going to be an unbelievable year for me!  I am purposing to stop trying to hold everything in place.  While I may feel like I’m free falling, I will keep my spiritual eyes intensely focused on Jesus.  He is my support.  My protection.  My salvation.  My security.  My FREEDOM!

Timmmmm-berrrrrr.   This tree is going down into the amazing, grace-filled arms of Jesus.

2 Corinthians 3:17  “Now the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is FREEDOM .”

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Lock It Up

It happened in a flash.  The soft click reverberated throughout the parking lot.  I was milli-seconds away from catching my thoughtless mistake.  To me, the cost would be high.  My keys were locked in, or rather… I was locked out.

I can count on one hand how many times I have done this in my lifetime – definitely not characterized by it.  Why today?  … The day I have a two-hour reprieve in the sanctuary of my car while my youngest aspires to be a ballerina.

Fighting tears of disappointment, I longingly peered through the window at my coffee, protein shake, laptop, Bible, journal, books and magazines.  Stupid. Stupid. Stupid!  My phone was in my hand- though pretty much useless as it indicated 7 % battery left.

Deep breathing staved off the tears as I began chatting with God.  “Okay.  You must have a plan.  I’ll just mosey in to the dance studio and await the divine encounter you have for me.”  I made myself cozy on one of the over-stuffed chairs in the lobby, ready for my moment.

Nothing.  People came and went without the slightest interest in engaging in conversation.

TWO HOURS later – phone dead, body weary – Olivia emerged from her class.  As we walked out the door, my rescuer veered around the corner.  With a simple click, Ed unlocked my mini-van.  I tried to express gratitude, not frustration over the enormous amount of time it took for him to arrive.

Coffee cold.  Protein shake warm.  Books unopened.  Laptop packed away.  Taking it all in was a reminder of the missed moments.

Texts and phone calls came in as my phone charged.  Everyone wanted something, AND they wanted it done the most convenient way for THEM.  Not one person asked what would work best for me.  I found myself trying to accommodate all the requests.  That’s when it hit me – in a little way at first, followed by a bigger revelation, followed by a practical revelation that hit me like a landslide.  This was the test.

I had wanted help immediately when I locked my keys in the car.  THAT’S what was best for ME.  Circumstances with Ed, however, negated a different outcome.  I had never really considered what was most convenient for him.

I stretched this thinking further:  When I had cancer, it really was not about me.  It was (and is) all about God.  Instead of focusing on why me… the question has to be, “What is best for you, God?”

I took a moment to run through the difficult events in my life – mom dying, infertility, mudslide, cancer.  “What was best for YOU, God?”  It was a new twist on the phrase, “All for God’s glory.”

As I let these spiritual thoughts sink in, God brought my thinking back to some practical insights.  I virtually never ask Eddie what would be best for him, yet I almost always expect him to be thinking that way about me.  I guess I am a lot more selfish than I care to admit.

My life right now is at an all time fast-paced mode of activities and busyness.  I am barely hanging on.  Consequently, every time I connect with Ed, it is through the lens of him helping me.  Making it all work out best for me.  Helping me wrap up loose ends.  Me!  Me!  Me!  And because he is able to handle so much -so incredibly well – I just never really ask what is best for him.  This was the practical, landslide revelation for me.  The “where the rubber meets the road, baby” moment.

I’m selfish.  I’m convicted.  In a way, I’m encouraged.  I’m hopeful.  I’m all those things that can begin the process of change.  The practical becomes the, vehicle in which God can drive me to a deeper walk of faith.

God has his work cut out for Him.  Even as I write this, I’ve blown it more times than I can count on both hands… definitely characterized by self-centeredness.

Ephesians 4:22b-24  “…put off your old self which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

I’m so far from that ending phrase… true righteousness and holiness.  I choose to cling to God for the ride of my life.  I’m giving Him the keys to my heart.  I’m out of the driver’s seat (overdoing the car analogies a bit perhaps?).  I don’t want to crash and burn (Okay.  I’m done).  Time to trade in my attitude for a new one (done for real this time).

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“I love you.  I miss you.”  The hour-long conversation ends, and the pain overwhelms me.  The small talk was wonderful, but the void still exists.  With the phone still in my hand mocking my futile attempts to find peace, I weep.  I miss her.  I love her.  I need her.

A chasm was created as surprising events came to light.  Decisions by another, held fall-out ramifications for us.  Our friendship was altered by circumstances we played no part in.

I text to her my anguish.  She quickly responds.  Within minutes we are back on the phone, crying, fighting to hang on to each other.  The deep feelings pour out and the heartfelt connection is instantly there.

Many have said the friendship will never be the same… move on.  But how does one move on, leaving their heart behind?  It’s an unacceptable option.

My emotions are raw with pain.  There is no easy fix.  This unanticipated journey requires a depth of faith I don’t seem to possess.

God is my only hope.    “Romans 12:12  “Be joyful in hope… faithful in prayer.”

There’s nothing I can say to alter this course.

God is my counselor.    John 14:26  “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything.”  

The path is foreign to me.  Completely unmarked.

He is my Shepherd.    Psalm 119:105  “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”

I’m not even sure how this can resolve or if it is possible.

He knows my future.    Jeremiah 29:11  “For I know the plans I have for you… plans to prosper you and not to harm you…”

The sadness is a tangible, physical ache – always present in my being.

His joy is my strength.    Isaiah 61:1-3  “He has sent me… to bestow on them a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”

My heart yields to the head knowledge of who God is.

As His character traits are rehearsed in my mind, peace is allowed to descend upon my soul.

He is there.    He cares.    I am not alone.

I wait.

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Medical Baby

“Would you like citrus, vanilla, peach, berry or banana?” asked the assistant.

“Excuse me.  What?” I confusingly remarked.  Most people would not panic at such a tasty list of flavors.  For me, it signaled a change in the expected regiment.

I was scheduling a CT scan involving an iv with contrast solution.  Just the day before I had been singing the praises of this particular facility because they utilized a tasteless, clear solution to drink before the test.  They even served it in a water bottle, making it a cinch to down the required volumes.  Now, the rules had changed and it would be back to the thick, yucky barium.

I am such a medical baby!  I admire those people that can just “get ‘er done.”  I over-think absolutely every step involved in every appointment or test.

“Ummm.  Berry.  I guess.  Oh, and one more thing.  Is it possible to schedule an iv specialist?  It’s nearly impossible to start the drip on me.”  She made the needed note, assuring me they would look into it.

As the call ended, the tears started.

I don’t like the actual process, and I definitely don’t like the what if’s.  I am a cancer survivor with the genetic make-up that could easily entertain the deadly carcinogens.  The mind games resume, right where they left off at my last medical stop.

I hide out in my not-so-pristine prayer closet, a.k.a. … the laundry room.  I press play on my ipod and the praise songs begin.  The mindless act of folding and sorting helps me talk to my closest friend.  The words of a song capture my attention.  “I lay it all down again.”  It becomes my prayer;  “Lord, I lay it ALL down… AGAIN.” My mind is being renewed as my focus turns to Him.  Another line brings such conviction.  “You’re all I want.”  I am SO far from this!  I want a lot!!  My growing list of desires and worries plays through my thoughts as I fold the pile in front of me:  I want my daughter to dance, I want my son to attend a private Christian school, I want new clothes, I want a fancy vacation.  Can I really put God at the top of the list and say, “You’re all I want?  Let the chips fall where they may?  Do I trust Him enough to put Him first??”

The song ends with one last gracious line.  “Help me know you are near.”  He is near.  I’ve got to believe it and own it.

More surrender.  More peace.

Draw me close to you

Never let me go

I lay it all down again

To hear you say that I’m your friend

You are my desire

No one else will do

Cause nothing else can take your place

To feel the warmth of your embrace

Help me find a way

Bring me back to you

You’re all I want

You’re all I’ve ever needed

You’re all I want

Help me know you are near

(Rebecca Carpenter)

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My Disneyland Trip (Part 2)

Cradling my injured arm, we slowly made our way through the castle into Fantasyland.  Eddie gingerly led me to a brick wall where I could sit and evaluate the damage.  Meanwhile, he placed the three kids in line for Peter Pan, leaving Jess in charge.

I could not stop crying from the pain and the realization that I had potentially ruined our vacation.  “Who falls at Disneyland?  What is wrong with me?” I wailed at Eddie.  My arm was almost entirely immobile.  We weighed our options.  I could have it checked at the Disney first aid office, where I was sure they would send me to the hospital.  Or… I could go directly to the hospital where it would take hours, and our day would be shot.  OR… I could just tough it out, staying at Disneyland as planned.

I insisted on the latter.  I positioned my arm as if it was in an imaginary sling.  Our pace slowed WAY down.  We STROLLED through the park, appreciating each sure step, often yielding to others.  If Olivia wanted a picture with a character, we stopped.  If Jessica and Cory indicated interest in a ride or attraction, we did it.  Throughout the day I downed a lot of Advil, spending much time patiently waiting for the others.  My aggression had been completely subdued.

Upon returning to the hotel, I decided to call my friend who is somewhat connected to the medical field.  Well, okay… her mom, sister and brother are all nurses, AND her closest friend is a science teacher!  What more could you want?  As we talked, we determined that I had not broken anything.  It had to be a soft tissue injury.  That was reassuring to me.  I felt I could finish out our trip, relying on Advil and ice to get me through.

To add insult to injury, it was my right arm and shoulder that took the brunt of my fall.  Being right-handed, this left me quite handicapped to perform even the most mundane, simplest tasks.  Changing my clothes proved to be the most difficult challenge.  Painful!  Brushing my teeth, blow-drying my hair, eating – anything that involved raising my right arm the tiniest fraction of an inch, brought unbearable pain.

Back from vacation, I daily analyzed if I should call the doctor.  Many people told me that I could possibly improve with time, however, after three weeks of NO improvement, I FINALLY made the appointment.  My rotator cuff was damaged.  I was to start physical therapy, with surgery as a back-up plan if I did not respond to treatment.  The good news was I already knew an excellent PT who had recently seen Ed, Jessica and Cory (THAT story is for another blog).

As I arrived for the first appointment, the teasing was in full swing in regards to yet another Margo coming through the door.  I humbly shared the story of my “accident”, giving everyone permission to tease me about it.  THEN, it became really comical when I had to explain my previous “injury” to the same arm due to ABS… that is… Angry Birds Syndrome (refer to my blog post, “Birds”).  I must admit, it would be nice to have more honorable injuries!

Slowly my arm has responded to therapy, with surgery no longer part of the discussion.  It has been over 3 months since the infamous castle belly flop, and I am still not a hundred percent recovered.  Recently, I read a quote by Beth Moore which said, “Better to be broken than to snap.”  God seems to be taking me on little practice runs of brokenness.  He is teaching me to yield to Him in every area of life.  I must be a reluctant learner because the “opportunities” just keep coming.

There are three short verse in I Thessalonians 5 in which God gives three keys to successfully living through or with brokenness:

Verse 16   “Be joyful always.”  (that’s the WHOLE verse)

Verse 17   “Pray continually.”  (Whole verse, again)

Verse 18   “Give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

I have to simultaneously do all three because I cannot have joy unless I pray, which leads to giving thanks which is ultimately an expression of my faith.  I trust God with everything – especially my broken parts… whether physical, emotional or spiritual.

Jim Daly, President of Focus on the Family, had a great quote in his book “Finding Home.”  He stated, “The purpose of pain is often to develop our character, yet we run from it because… pain is the gift that nobody wants.  I love that!

“Lord, please break me before I snap.  Use the gift of pain to grow deep spiritual roots in my life.  I will be joyful always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances.  Oh… and one more thing… while I know that Disneyland is the happiest place on earth, maybe we can do these life lessons in joy somewhere else… Just a thought…!!!   I love you Lord!!

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My Disneyland Trip (Part One)

The lines were incredibly long to enter the park.  It was our second day at Disneyland, and the crowd had doubled in size.  Why was everyone here on a Monday?!  I began weaving my family in and out of position to have the best advantage.  Strollers were everywhere, along with all kinds of motorized contraptions for those needing mobility assistance.

I had a plan:  once through the gates, make a bee-line for Fantasyland, specifically, the Peter Pan ride.  Beat the crowds and check it off the list!  I relayed the strategy to my troops.  We were on a mission, and they had their marching orders.

We were in.  Scanning the mob, I gave the command, “Go to the right and stay focused!  Walk fast!”  Goofy was signing autographs off to the side of the Main Street loop, catching 5-year-old Olivia’s attention.  “Not now.  We can look for him later.  Keep moving!”  Main Street was shoulder-to-shoulder people with the horse-drawn cable-like-cars honking their way through the masses.

The tension in me was mounting.  The happiest place on earth was quickly becoming the most stressful place on earth.  I was painstakingly keeping step with my 15-year-old daughter, Jessica… zig-zagging our way through the multitude.  My aggression was now leading to some mouthy comments, as I began to mock the funny, buggy characteristics of those we were zooming past.

As Main Street widened to the circular plaza, the crowd thinned out.  My intensity, however, continued to escalate, realizing we were in the lead of this imaginary race to Peter Pan.  Approaching the castle, my stride was almost to a jog.  As Ed wheeled Olivia over to the castle walkway flattened out for strollers… Jess, Cory and I took the more direct route.  A simple curb stood between me and the home-stretch.

In my haste, the toe of my bright pink Columbia shoe caught the top of the curb.  Not to be overly dramatic, but time stood still as my mind contemplated the inevitable.  I was going down.

Falling as an adult has to be one of the most embarrassing events that can happen.  Suspended in mid-air, I was actually thinking about this.  Who would notice?  How quickly could I get up?  Would a crowd surround me?  Laughter?  Pain?  “Stop daydreaming and save yourself,” was the next thought screaming through my brain.  No such luck.

Hard doesn’t even begin to describe my fall.  I hit the pavement and LITERALLY bounced three times.  It was an ugly series of belly flops in front of this most beautiful castle.  Wow.  Really?? … I REALLY just did that?? … Yep!!

My family gawked at me.  Stunned.  Mom fell.

Eddie quickly raced over to help.  The way I landed, he expected my face to be covered in blood.

Caring more about my dignity than the excruciating pain, I hopped to my feet.  Looking into Eddie’s eyes I lamented, “My shoulder is busted.  I know I’m going to need surgery involving pins and screws.  I can’t move it.”

Mission aborted.

I Thessalonians 5:16  “Be joyful always.”

(to be continued…)

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Baby Steps

My mouth was literally gaping open as my friend Rhonda began to share her recent spiritual journey.  “I fasted for 21 days.  Trust me, don’t be impressed,” she humbly exclaimed while encouraging a group of us who absolutely adore her.  I felt like a spiritual loser.

Why have I never pursued the spiritual discipline of fasting?   I’ve heard others speak of it as their “life-line” to spiritual growth.  Can I really not give up food for even a couple of hours to be closer to God?  I have faced insurmountable crises in my life, yet fasting has not been my method of choice in walking through difficult times.   Funny thing is, I actually taught a ladies’ Bible study session on fasting, which demonstrates that I have all the head knowledge, just no practical experience.

Well… completely drenched in conviction after Rhonda shared her fasting story and subsequent victories, I made the decision to start fasting.  This is going to sound pitiful, but my first commitment was to not eat until 10:30…  a.m. that is.  I know, I know… most of you do that without labeling it a fast.  For me, it was that initial step of giving God my attention, choosing Him over my favorite breakfast foods.  The next week, I set 11:00 (still a.m.) as my goal, followed by noon the next week.

God was nudging me along, ministering to me in my baby steps of faith.  My heightened sensitivity of His presence was an amazing thing.  On my fasting days (okay… partial days) I would be very teary-eyed with an awareness of God’s deep love for me.  Singing my prayers to Him, I knew God was near and probably smiling (possibly trying to stifle a laugh) at my new effort to be closer to Him.

James 4:8  “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”  After several weeks, I began thoroughly anticipating the day I would fast, adding the extra half hour.  My hunger for God was increasing.  I must confess that I am not a “fasting purist” – whatever that means.  Coffee, diet coke, chocolate milk – all are “legal” in my new venture.  When I shared this with a couple of friends, they reprimanded me, temporarily snatching the joy from my victory.  However, one quick call to Rhonda and I was up and running again.  She released me, saying, “Hey, if it can fit through a straw, you’re fine.  It’s between you and God.”

So… currently I am up to 6:00 (p.m. that is)!  My baby steps have been wonderful, hard, awesome, trying… all of it.  BUT, they have slowly and steadily brought me closer to Jesus, which is where I long to be.  In the words of my profound friend, “Don’t be impressed.”  While it’s not 21 days, it’s getting awfully close to 21 hours.   Okay… Be Impressed!!


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